Schēma: a semantic puzzle: some hermeneutical and translational difficulties about Philippians 2:7d

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The occurrence of the term σχήμα in Phil 2:7d is analyzed in comparison with two other crucial Pauline occurrences: 1 Cor 7:31 and Phil 3:21 (here as a semanteme included in the verb μετασχηματίσει). This comparative study aims to provide a revision of the current interpretation of the word as designating the outward, sensory, accidental appearance in which Christ’s human nature was manifested to those who dealt with him. This traditional reconstruction is unsatisfactory in two respects: (1) it is tributary to a substantialist ontology that identifies corporeality as a mere spatial extension, unrelated to historicity and (2) it is fraught with highly problematic theological, potentially docetic, implications. As an alternative, the term σχήμα is here interpreted within the framework of the great Pauline theology of history: as a temporal–eschatological marker designating the peculiar temporal state of transience and suffering corruptibility inherent in physicality and corporeal life. This change also clarifies the conceptual articulation of σχήμα with the parallel expression μορφὴν δούλου. According to this interpretation, contrary to the prevailing view, the locution “slave form” does not designate ‘the’ or ‘one’ ‘human form’ but the ‘creature form’, as cosmic submission to temporal finitude.
Original languageEnglish
Article number613
Pages (from-to)1-15
Number of pages15
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 16 May 2024


  • Philippians (epistle)
  • Paul
  • σχήμα
  • μoρφη`ν δoύλoυ
  • Time


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